By Leonard Frieling


[Editor’s Note: This article came across the communal email NORML chapters share. The author says this piece was vetted by national NORML Deputy Director, Paul Armentano. This topic is a recurring one in NORML circles. There are several reasons to potentially challenge the legality of CBD, especially in a time when the current US Farm Bill explicitly legalizes it. All that said, I get nervous calls and questions whenever I am in public: “I want to be safe. I want to try CBD, but will I still be safe?” The answer is trickier than most of us thought. Cue Mr. Frieling–]

CBD and THC (the chemical that gets us high) both come from the same plant. The cannabis plant has both present all of the time. I believe there is currently no “non-natural” source of CBD. It all comes from cannabis.

Unlike THC, which is the primary psychoactive component in cannabis, CBD possesses little psycho-activity. It is widely accepted as having a range of medical benefits. It will not cause anyone to fail a urine test for pot. BUT!

A particular CBD product may not chemically match the label. Both CBD and THC are found in the same marijuana plant, all of the time. A label that says “little or no” THC may be accurate. Or not. As to both ingredients and amounts.

Some CBD products have been found to have trace amounts of THC. It is present in tiny insignificant amounts and cannot get anyone high. CBD itself is slightly psychoactive. BUT the label claim of the % of THC may be wrong. The actual level may be higher.

The chemical that is identified in urine testing is produced by THC and not by CBD. This is well-established chemistry. So, the less THC in the product as used, the safer for the drug-tested user.

So, someone using a product which is labeled “CBD” “THC FREE” or CBD with a tiny % of THC, under 1% or less perhaps, is at risk to flunk a urine drug test for marijuana. I believe the risk to be quite low. I suspect that the failures will be when someone uses an improperly labeled or improperly tested CBD product, perhaps in larger amounts than normally used. I suspect that for most, using salves, the risk is extremely low.

I should also note, in Watanabe (2007), the team reports that they were able to synthesize delta 9 THC (as well as some HHC slightly psychoactive cannabinoids) from pure CBD. They used an acid catalyst, synthetic gastric juices. Others report similarly.

Even with this extra info, my conclusion is the same: Definitely (maybe). Whether produced in tiny amounts by the acid synthesis of CBD (mice and test tubes so far) or whether it is a labeling issue, the safest route appears to be salves and tinctures, bypassing the stomach acids, and not smearing it everywhere.

I believe the risk is then very low. I don’t know of an experiment in which someone was smeared with CBD or dosed with too much CBD candy, and then blood and urine tested to see what is found. I predict that it would take a good lab and GCMS to locate anything. I would be amazed if THC COOH shows in the urine testing used by employers. I have heard anecdotally from other pot lawyers that they have had CBD clients flunk urine. I believe that is extremely rare, and again, my guess is “improper testing and labeling” and not the synthesis in stomach acid to get the delta 9 THC —-> THC COOH.

Lenny Frieling– A former Judge, Frieling was the originator of the Colorado Bar Association’s Cannabis Law Committee, chair of the Boulder Criminal Defense Bar, a Life Member of the NORML Legal Committee and the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, a Board Member Emeritus of Colorado NORML, and a LEAP Speaker.

Leonard Frieling
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